Monday M.O. 12/19/16

So 2016 is coming to a close, and likely many of you are considering New Year’s resolutions for 2017. Personally, I stopped setting them because it didn’t work for me. It never felt like it was a plan I could follow through on because it was tied to a date versus being tied to what I want out of life. And after the first few weeks the rush was gone because so many other people who had similar resolutions dropped like flies all around me, which became demotivating. And then it became hard, too hard.

So a few years back I tried something out, instead of a New Year’s resolution I opted to start making changes right then, at the time it was November. My thought process was if I start now, by the time NYE rolls around, it should be a habit. And honestly, it worked, but not for the reason I initially thought. I was still thinking new year, new me, but I’ll just get a head start. What was really going on that I couldn’t even see until later was that I identified something I wanted, started right away, set realistic goals and strategies for when things got rough, and most importantly I was doing it for me. Not for a cultural norm of setting a resolution, not for others, it was for me. That was the start of my journey to getting healthy and the start of my 100 lb+ weight loss, more on that another time.

Every time I set goals for myself and things get hard, I remind myself that I have been through worse, harder, more agonizing, more _____. I promise I will write about this at some point, but I remind myself that I learned how to walk again when doctors told me that I should get used to being in a wheelchair. That event in my life has had such a profound impact on me in ways I’m sure I have yet to fully understand. But what I do understand is that almost nothing worth having will be easy and laid out for you. You have to work for it.

Now I’m not saying you need to have as profound a moment as that. What I am saying is if you’re planning on making a resolution for 2017, why not start now? It won’t be any easier 2 weeks from now, but if it’s something you want, why wait? Setting goals shouldn’t be a resolution, it should just be SMART.

  • Specific: Just answer the 5 Ws here – what is it I want to change/do, who will be involved, where will this happen, when will I make time for it, and why do I want this?
  • Measurable: Have a way to see your progress with something that can be evaluated (miles ridden, time spent riding in one sitting, 0-10 mood scale, etc).
  • Attainable: Have a stretch goal, something that pushes you beyond your limit but isn’t so lofty that you will get discouraged too quickly. Once you reach it, you can always set another one, right?
  • Relevant: Your goal should be something that matters to you and will make you happier because of it, not something forced on you by what you think others want you to be.
  • Timely: Lastly you need to be able to hold yourself accountable to a deadline. What can you accomplish in the short/medium/long term.
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What Is It Wednesday: Gyros

I’m not referring to the kind you put tzatziki on for lunch, although now that I think of it –  I’m hungry. I digress… So one of my goals for the blog is to make From The Top of the Top a fully inclusive space for all kinds of riders so I am not limiting this site to just road or mountain biking. One of the What Is It Wednesdays that I am super excited about coming up is  going to be about adaptive cycling, which as a Physical Therapist Assistant I can honestly say I am stoked about writing that one. Sometime soon I will also write a bit about Cyclo Cross, so basically anything on 2 wheels will be fair game here. This week I wanted to introduce a little drop of knowledge from the world of BMX and talk about gyros, or detanglers as they’re also known.

tailwhip
Credit: bikeshed.projects

So why did I want to write about a piece of equipment that is really only seen in BMX which I only have experience as an observer? Well, have you seen how they work? It’s freaking cool and borders on black magic.

So the way this came about all started on YouTube, as many horrible wonderful things do.  I was watching some pretty ridiculous bike tricks and saw a few people doing some crazy things with their BMX bikes. Sure, I’ve seen people spin their handlebars or do tail whips before, and didn’t think much of it because they didn’t have brakes, so it would be easy to make the handlebars and stem spin around the headset and head tube. But I was watching a few people do it with front and rear brakes and for the life of me couldn’t figure out how the cables didn’t get jacked up. That single thought led to a night of looking up how BMX brakes work and it felt like a good topic to cover here, because hey – maybe you didn’t know either!


So I would say 90% of how the brakes work is the same as on any caliper or disc brake system – a lever when squeezed  puts tension on a cable that causes the brake to activate.

detangler1
Credit: Park Tool

Nothing new there. Where we start to differentiate is the fact that BMX bikes need a full 360 degrees of freedom  between the front and rear. If you were to try and turn the handlebars on a non-BMX bike, you’d eventually be stopped by the cabling. So how do BMX bikes do it? This is where the detangler comes into play.

 

So let’s start at the front. The brake lever attaches to the brake cables which run down to the upper cable stop on the top plate.

Now from the rear. The cable that runs to the brake will be threaded through the lower cable stop on the bottom plate.

detangler2
Credit: Park Tool

Both the cables from the brake lever and the ones running to the brakes themselves will then connect to the detangler. When the lever is pulled the unit pulls up as one piece. When inactive the top half and the detangler are free to rotate while the lower half remains stationary. Josh Bentley from Vital BMX has a short but sweet video explaining detangler magic.

So that’s detanglers in a very basic nutshell. Hopefully I have demystified them for you, and if I missed something let me know! One of my goals for 2017 is to give BMX a try and see how I like it. I have no expectations of doing flips but maybe some ground tricks wouldn’t suck so bad if I don’t land them?

Monday M.O.

You’ve heard and/or seen this phrase right? I’d credit the photo but it’s been shared all over Pinterest I wouldn’t even know where to begin. But hey, if you’re the owner, let me know and I will most definitely give credit where credit is due.

So onto the motivational part of Motivation Mondays, I set up my indoor trainer in my living room, off to the side so that all I have to do is angle it out so I can ride and watch Good Mythical Morning everyday (if you haven’t heard of Rhett and Link, you should chekck them out – they’re ridiculous). Depending if I am focusing on endurance/cadence/power I will typically put in anywhere between 20 – 45 minutes at least once a day right now. This has been keeping me calm in the storm that is relocating in the middle of finding a job in the middle of finding someone to take over our lease in the middle of my husband coming off unemployment in the middle of the craptacular year 2016 shaped itself up to be.

But – I ride. I can count on that not sucking, at least in the way that suckier things tend to suck. If the weather warms up again, which seems to happen in NC quite often in the winter, then I’ll venture outside with the bike. But right now the air is just a bit to chill for my lungs to not feel like they’re on fire.

So do like it says and pedal it out.

What Is It Wednesdays Sensor Edition

Speed, cadence, power, heart rate – these are just a few things you can track while riding. It seems more and more we’re a data driven society. Data is no longer facts and figures relegated to analysts stuck in basement offices crunching numbers. Anymore we can just look at our phone or even our wrists to see just how many steps we’ve taken, calories burned, distance traversed and much more. Bike computers aren’t exactly new, but now more than ever they are more easily accessible to the masses. With that in mind, I’m sure plenty of you have asked exactly what are those number crunching devices and what are they doing – and hey, do I need one? So allow me to take you on a brief tour of the main sensors you will come across and hopefully answer some of those questions for you.


Speed

bontragerinterchange
Credit: Trek/Bontrager

Whether you measure in kilometers or miles per hour, a speed sensor is going to give you information about how fast you’re going (or not going in the case of that monster hill you dread, just me?). It’s taking your distance divided by the elapsed time that has passed. There’s a few ways you can measure your speed including dedicated sensors or computers,and apps like Strava, MapMyRide, and Wahoo.

If you opt for a sensor setup then what you will typically see is a magnet that attaches to a spoke on your rear wheel and a receiver mounted on the chainstay. Models can either be wireless or wired and may work with either a display mounted to your handlebars, or synced to an app on your phone. Personally I use the Bontrager Interchange (pictured above) which measures my speed and cadence, paired with my phone (via Bluetooth/Ant+) which I keep mounted to my stem while running Strava. This setup works for my rides at the moment, but one day I plan on upgraded to a full on bike computer, more on that and Ant+/Bluetooth later.

If you plan on utilizing your phone’s GPS to display that info instead of a dedicated system, no worries, it will give you a great estimate. One word of advice just from my own experiences, the GPS available in most phones will just draw a straight line between two points as it pings the satellite with your location meaning it can over or undershoot your distance. In areas with spotty GPS this can provide unreliable stats. For example, I was once going 3,200 mph on my bike, now I know I like to think of myself as Wonder Woman but I had left my invisible jet home that day. I’ve also missed out on many miles that were cutout because of the finicky GPS in my phone.


Cadence

cateyestrada430
Credit: Cateye

Often you will find speed and cadence paired together on sensors, not always but typically if the unit cost $25 or more it’s going to have both. Cadence is the number of times you pedal within a given amount of time, with the standard being rotations per minute or RPM. If you wish to measure cadence then you will have to have a dedicated sensor as your phone will not be able to measure this on its own. Same setup as a speed sensor – a magnet on a rear wheel spoke that connects to a receiver every time it passes during the wheel’s rotation. The Bontrager model that I showed in the section above also tracks cadence, but I thought I would also show a model that is built into a dedicated bike computer such as Cateye’s Strada 430. You can see the cadence displayed at the bottom right.

Don’t be mistaken with cadence, the higher the RPM doesn’t always equate to faster speeds ESPECIALLY when multiple gears are involved. When going up a hill I will shift to a lower gear in order to pick up my cadence and maintain a fairly level rate of perceived exertion (RPE). In English that means that while I am going up a hill, something that is more difficult that riding on a flat surface, I will drop my gear so that I can pedal faster but with significantly less resistance so that my legs don’t feel like murder jello later, saving energy so I can ride longer.


Power

garminpedalpower
Credit: Garmin

This one I had to do a little of research on because while I have heard of them and seen a few, I don’t have any personal experience using one. Power meters measure how much effort you put into moving you and your bicycle over a distance in a measurable amount of time. Power meters will display in watts which translates to the amount of energy it took to do what I just broke down. Power meters come in a few styles and can be found on the crank, pedal, hub, and less common as a footpod you can put in your shoe. The one pictured here is a pedal based unit from Garmin Vector. As you can imagine, the calculations that go into interpreting this data are much more complex than cadence and speed.

Power meters allow you to see just how hard you’re working because speed and cadence don’t always give the full picture (hello fast down hills!). A great combo to analyze is actually the power you’re outputting in conjunction with your heart rate to understand if you can push harder or if you’re running out of juice.


Heart Rate

polara300
Credit: Polar

The last sensor we’ll discuss is the humble and handy heart rate monitor or HRM. HRMs come either as the traditional chest strap model or less accurate optical sensors on some watches and fitness bands. HRMs are measuring how fast your heart is beating over the course of a minute represented as beats per minute or BPM. Some bike computers can pair with HRMs otherwise you can use one that displays on a watchface like the Polar A300 pictured.

As I mentioned in the power section, measuring your heart rate can give you insight on how hard you’re training. Once you figure out your max heart rate and target heart rate range then you’ll know if you can kick it up or notch or need to take it a bit easier. If you’re interested in learning more about target and max heart rates, let me know and I can make that a What Is It Wednesday one of these Wednesdays.


Ant+ and Bluetooth

I am going to keep this section brief. If you have a smartphone or tablet then likely you are already familiar with Bluetooth, it’s a method of pairing devices together so that can work hand in hand to perform a task (phone + Bluetooth speaker = jamming out while meal prepping for the week). Ant+ isn’t new but it’s not as big of a name as Bluetooth. It serves a similar purpose – allowing two devices to communicate with each other wirelessly. Newer phones are coming with built-in Ant+ more increasingly. If your phone, or computer, doesn’t have Ant+ built in you can still use it, you’ll just need to purchase a separate Ant+ stick to plug it in to your device. I am actually going to be signing up for Zwift soon and need to replace my Ant+ stick, maybe I’ll do a review 🙂


So whether you need any of these is really up to you. My recommendation is that if you’re a casual rider then you’re not likely going to benefit and can likely take a pass on these. However if you ride as a means of training then try using what is already built into your phone/apps as a test run before dropping some cash on a device and when you’re ready to make that step – do your research! Find out what will work for your riding style, where you ride, and how you plan on keeping tabs on all of this information. Alrighty folks, this concludes another What Is It Wednesday, see you in a week, hope you learned something!

They See Me Rolling – November 2016

Alright, so today was supposed to be the day for a monthly miles update, the FIRST ONE actually. No excuses, November was a rough month for me to get any miles in and the ones I did get in, I barely recorded. We’re in the beginning/middle stages of planning/executing our relocation so this month kind of got away from me. I sucked, I admit it. However, I’ve already logged some miles for December to make up for the No Bike November (or at least what felt like it) so stay tuned on January 5th because I promise there will be an update then.

Photo credit: The Bold Italic Editors

Monday M.O.

So today I feel like crap but I came across this great article from Eleven about not worrying about fitting in with the norm when it comes to cycling, I sometimes struggle with that myself. But what grabbed my attention was the photo and quote they used (pictured) and it prompted me to hop on my indoor trainer for a few even though my couch/blanket/Netflix queue is calling to me. Despite all that, I will just ride, it may not be pretty, but it’s something.

Thoughts on the Eco Helmet?

Have you seen the Eco Helmet yet? It looks like one of those party decorations that you fold out and either hang from the ceiling or use as a table centerpiece because it looks like a snowman or a turkey. All jokes aside, it’s an interesting concept, one that just won a Dyson award according to Bike Hugger.

ecohelmet2
Credit: Eco Helmet

It’s supposed to be a compact, foldable, reusable bike helmet that can withstand impact. I like this as an add-on item for city bike rentals like B-Cycle or CycleHop. If you think about it, people renting bikes on one off situations tend not to be carrying helmets, and traditional helmets would be near impossible to keep stocked at bike share kiosks due to space and shrinkage, so this could fill in that glaring safety gap. It’s small enough that it wouldn’t take up much room at docking stations and durable enough to last users a few rides if properly cared for, so they could keep it in their purse or backpack for future rides.

As far as safety I would DEFINITELY say it’s safer than nothing. Its honeycomb construction is supposed to disperse impact across a wider surface area and be comparable to the typical polystyrene used in helmets but does not have a hard outer shell. That lack of an outer shell makes me wonder what types of impact it could withstand. Their website does state that it is crash tested, and I have seen other honeycomb designs on the market lately but those were made of denser material built into a traditional helmet. Eco Helmet is still in development according to their website but I am happy to see a product that will encourage helmet use particularly for riders who don’t ride often, especially on busy city streets.


All in all, I like the idea. The Eco Helmet is recyclable which is a bonus, but I am unsure of how many uses you will get out of it. Overall I would absolutely recommend a more traditional helmet be on hand if you’re going to make a bike sharing service part of your regular routine. But if you always have one of these in your bag, you’ll never have a reason NOT to ride. So I can’t complain there.

What Is It Wednesday: Cycle Alert

This week I was tossing around a few ideas for WIIW, I have plenty on bike basics I could write about but then I watched this video and just knew this is what I wanted to share with you this week. As I ride more and more on the road (remember I grew up equating riding in the streets with instant roadkill status?) the more and more I’m thinking about safety. Am I visible? Which is safer – road or sidewalk? Arguments could be made on both sides to that question. Will I see or hear the car rolling up behind me if I am slowing down on a hill or coming to a stoplight? Well this UK company came up with a great idea specifically for those big 18 wheelers, but I see a greater application in mind. Also, is it UK anymore after Brexit or have we gone back to Great Britain, or England – it feels like when you keep calling someone by the wrong name unknowingly. Weigh in below if you know.

Anyways.. watch this short video and let’s discuss how this could impact road safety.

cycle-tag-how-it-works-storyboard.png
Credit: Cycle Alert

So this company called Cycle Alert posted this video on YouTube about two years ago. Its focus is on the danger that comes with big rig drivers and cyclists sharing the road and the huge blindspots that exist on vehicles like that, especially while turning. It’s bad enough that the blindspots are big enough to hide a car let alone a lone cyclist.

So what Cycle Alert came up with is a RFID tag and receiver system. Cyclists put a tag on their bikes and the truck driver has a receiver outfitted on the outside of the truck and a display mounted on their dashboard. When a cyclist nears one of these equipped trucks, the receiver sends a signal to the display letting the driver know “Hey! You’ve got someone riding on two wheels next to you.” It doesn’t literally say this, but you get the idea. Although, if they ever updated it to include an audible alarm my vote is for Samuel L Jackson to be the voice.

So right now this is a UK based product, and the tags are free  to cyclists (or $14 UK there’s some confusion on their site about this) and the company is working with shipping companies to get them equipped with the receivers. So let’s discuss what works, what doesn’t, and how this could be flushed out to a wider market.

Ok so first off, I think this is an awesome concept that needs refining. For one, the receiver mounts to the outside of the truck on one side, and it’s not clear whether if the cyclist was coming up on your other side if the RFID tag would be picked up or not. They do mention in their video that it works through glass, but I highly doubt it would work unless you had a receiver on both sides and the rear just because of all of the metal encasing the vehicle which just acts as an RFID blocker.

The second major issue that I see plaguing this great concept is that everyone has to opt-in to using it. Cyclists need to put it on their bikes and truck companies need to equip it on their fleets. Kudos to the companies in the UK that already have done so because it’s not just about keeping cyclists safe, it keeps their drivers safe as well, no driver wants to experience something as tragic as hitting a person just because they couldn’t see them. But all of the truck driving companies could have them on their vehicles and it still won’t work unless all bikes are also equipped with the tags. And then you have an environment where drivers may get used to and rely on the device and not check their blindspots for tag-less cyclists (or vice versa for cyclists, but I have a feeling cyclists are a little more cautious considering their the smaller of the two).

The way I see this being a viable option is if it gets built into road safety infrastructure. Make all new cars (not just trucks) come equipped with the sensor and display, and make all new bikes come equipped with the tag itself. Then all you have to do is offer upgrade kits to cyclists and motorists without new bikes and cars. But how can we take this one step further? On their site it mentions they are still fine tuning the system and they also offer other products for motorists with cycle safety in mind such as cameras and turn sensors.

But why not integrate something that already exists in some newer bike computers? Garmin, and a few other companies, already have radar built into some of their units that alert cyclists to oncoming motorists. I’ve even seen some systems that connect to the taillight causing it to blink differently as the car nears. There are several brands of helmets with LEDs on the rear that have a built-in accelerometer that changes the blinking pattern to solid as you slow down to alert riders and drivers behind you.


I say all of that to say this. Instead of having three or four products keeping us safe, visible, and aware – why not just one? What I am hoping Cycle Alert or any other company can do is get car manufacturers to build in cyclist detection even in their non-luxury offerings, and get bike companies to build in these tags as well as an alert system for the cyclist. Basically – make it standard on both sides. Incentivize it if you have to by providing a discount on car insurance if your vehicle is equipped with it.

But that’s just me, what other systems have you seen out there that are working to keep both drivers and cyclists safe on the road?

Monday M.O.’s

We all get in slumps, like for me – right now. My husband and I are relocating to another state and this post month had been all about doing recon on where we want to move, figuring it finances, one of us finding a job first and the general mayhem that comes with preparing for major life changes. So getting my rides in has slipped a bit – OR A LOT – this month.

It got me thinking that maybe we could all use a pick me up or a pat on the back for a job well done. So starting today I will be posting a Monday M.O. M.O. if you’ve ever watched any crime drama is the way or reason someone does something, “modus operandi” is we want to get all Latin about it. Whether it’s just a gentle reminder to feel good or an update on my own progress, let’s just make Monday a positive start to the week. As this site grows I definitely would love to feature readers’ progress and personal breakthroughs too! So if you’ve got one to share hit me up!

Also, I need to give props to Secret Dream Life for this awesome photo! Perfect way to start out Motivational Mondays!

What Is It Wednesday: Airless Tires

Ok so airless tires aren’t a completely new thing since solid tires have been around for a while. But I recently came across some new concepts, in particular the Ever Tires and Nexo brands. Essentially they took a solid tire, and punched some holes or gas infused them to make it lighter than a traditional solid tire, making it more accessible for people who like the idea of a solid tire but not necessarily the cost or the heftiness (real word, I swear). Before we get too much into these new-fangled airless tires, let’s take a look at how a traditional bike tire (and tube) works so we can see the difference and decide whether it’s worth it or not.

So if you read last week’s What Is It Wednesday on bike anatomy you already know that the tires attach to the rim of the bike wheel and are inflated to their correct PSI (pounds per square inch) via a valve – simple enough. These types (tubular) of tires have inner tubes, which is what you’re actually inflating. The tube itself  wraps around the rim just under the tire that can be glued to the rim. The pros with this type of setup boil down to being cheaper per unit, on the lower end you’re looking at $6-$15 per tube. The downside is that if something punctures your tire and inner tube, it’s going to go flat and hopefully it’s not too far of a walk back.

tube
Credit: Nashbar

Now there’s also tubular tires that aren’t 100% air filled, they come partially filled with a gel. Slime Smart Tubes is one such example. Inside the tube it contains a gel that when the tire and tube get punctured, the gel (or slime as they call it) will leak out and harden upon contact with the air. Pretty neat. Pros on this one definitely have to be the fact that you won’t get a flat right away if your tire and tube are punctured. Cons, well I’ve heard from others that you can feel the additional weight rolling around the tire which may or may not bother you. The other biggest con I’ve heard is that once it is punctured and you go to change your tire and tube out it can be quite the mess. These will set you back anywhere between $10 – $30 a tube depending on the size and type needed. They have lightweight ones and extra thick ones depending on your tire type.

tubes_super_thick_fam20
Credit: Slime Smart Tubes

So we’re getting closer to the airless tires I started this post with, and as I said tubeless tires aren’t exactly new. Tubeless tires function almost exactly the same as a tubular tire except for one small fact – you guessed right, there’s no tube involved. Instead the tire is sealed to the rim and you inflate the tire itself. The diagram below shows a side by side comparison. Pros here are no need for tubes – yay! Also they seem to roll easier on the ground since the tire can give a little to conform better without the tube being in the way. Cons, there’s definitely more setup involved and you have to be more mindful of maintenance because these can still get a flat, they’re not impenetrable.. Price ranges wildly depending on the size and style you need: $30-$100+/tire.

tubescomp
Credit:Deer Valley

Now to these tubeless AND airless tires. Phew… it took a minute to get here but it’s worth it. Ok, so what if you didn’t have to worry about fixing a flat, dealing with tubes, or even having to inflate your tires – it might save you some time, right? Well, that’s what a few companies including Ever Tires and Nexo are hoping. The idea is that because there’s nothing to inflate, it can never go flat. These companies have slightly different designs so let’s start with Ever Tires.

Ever Tires use a polymer blend to create a solid but not solid tire. Their tires have holes that reduce weight and add some cushion to the ride. One of my chief concerns with these tires is how to maintain the tire with all of those holes. If I’m riding off-road, I can only imagine the mud build-up that might occur, which will make the tires roll unevenly. I’d be interested to see first hand how easy it is to CLEAN between all those little holes. One positive note is they are rated for 3000+ miles (5000+ if you use their rim set). One downside, which I’d like to know more about, is these would not be ideal for indoor trainers because of the heat generated from the friction. I use my indoor trainer often, so it would be a hassle to have to change the back wheel out, maybe they’ll refine their materials to withstand use on an indoor trainer, we’ll just have to wait and see.

evertires
Credit: Ever Tires

The other airless tire I wanted to gander at was the Nexo tire. This is another airless tire that requires no inflation and is rated for 5000 km. The tire is made up of a proprietary compound and a portion of their interior is filled with a stable gas that reduces the weight (ballgate anyone?). To keep the tires centered on the rim, they use a bolt system. While I LOVE the look of the Ever Tires, I have to admit that the Nexos seem like a more practical option as far as maintenance. The concept of the tire being partially filled with gas is interesting because of how it’s done, the gas impregnates the material versus being inflated and then sealed. So even if the tire gets punctured, only a minimal amount of the gas would be lost, therefore no flat. The Nexos may or may not be suitable for indoor trainers – their website says to keep away from heat sources but nothing is specifically said about trainers. I’ll try to follow up with them on this.

nexo
Credit: Nexo

So there we have it folks. We’ve learned a lot about tires today! I hope to get an opportunity to review the Nexo and Ever Tires and if I do I will definitely post a follow up to this. If you’re interested in learning more about the Nexo and Ever Tires, they have a KickStarter up now, which I’ve linked.

Know any great topics you’d like to see covered on What Is It Wednesday, comment below or send me a message. 


 Disclaimer: None of these companies sponsor me or pay for my opinions. Any links added to this article were done for informational purposes only and to credit image source.